I don’t have to tell you what happens when you ask an 8-year-old where she wants to have dinner on her birthday. When my son came to tell me that his step-daughter, Jaelynn, had finally made her choice, he seemed almost apprehensive about telling me. You know, because I’m a food writer.
“She says she wants to go to Golden Corral,” he said.
That’s right, Golden Corral. Two types of dining I generally avoid are chains and buffets. But if your step-granddaughter is turning 9 and wants the family to go to Golden Corral, you go to Golden Corral.
I had never been to Golden Corral, so I didn’t even know how it worked. When we arrived, it was like a cattle call, with a long line of people waiting to get into what appeared to be some sort of aristocratic food orgy, so far as I could see from the back of the line. And when we approached the entrance, we were asked what we would like to drink. Once you’ve made your choice, you’re given a tiny plastic cup filled with it, at which point you proceed to the cashier. I was paying for myself and my girlfriend, Cynthia.
“$32,” she said.
Uhh. Uhh. OK. So I paid, and into the bright lights of a thousand heat lamps and shining sneeze guards we paraded. There was food as far as the eye could see. There was a fajita station. There was pizza. There was a guy grilling steaks. There was a cascading fountain of chocolate sauce. It was food as far as the eye could see. There were even giant pictures of food on the walls. It was overwhelming.
And the place was so full that we had to pull together two tables to accommodate everyone in our party. And then? Well, then you just have at it. And every item on the buffet is clearly marked with a simple sign stating what it is, which is helpful only if it isn’t obvious. For instance, green beans don’t necessarily need to be labeled, but whatever. Fried okra? Check. Baked fish? Check. Kale greens? Yep. Meatloaf? Sure thing. Wait … is that seafood salad? It sure is!
As I tried to make my way through the ravenous throngs to just get a glimpse of what I might want to eventually attempt to eat, I saw people whizzing by me carrying two plates, often piled with food. Everyone seemed quite happy to be there. The frenzy was on, and a jubilant frenzy it was.
(The irony is that, while you are invited to pile heaps of food upon multiple plates at your discretion, if you want a refill on your tiny plastic cup of liquid, you have to flag down a server. I guess they didn’t have room for a soft drink fountain, thanks to all those warmers.)
Anyway, I finally tried a few items — a hunk of roast beef, some greens, some mashed potatoes, a few fried shrimp, a hunk of slightly gristly sirloin, et cetera, and it was all good enough. Nothing stood out, and yet it was better than I had anticipated (I expected everything to taste like cardboard). And then my mom asked, “Did you try the pot roast?” Nope. She noted that it was “awesome.” So I decided to try it. And then I noticed the sign, which literally read, “Awesome Pot Roast.” So, everything else in the place is simply labeled by the name of the item, yet this one dish is given the superlative, “Awesome”? OK, then — it’s on.
And, gosh darn it, it was kind of awesome. The beef was tender, flavorful and sloppy with juice; the potatoes were big, skin-on, perfectly cooked chunks; the carrots were hand-sliced and hearty; the onions were fresh, and the thick broth was flavorful. This was homemade-quality pot roast I was eating. Honestly, I wish I had gotten nothing but a big plate of that. Or two plates. At the same time.
Meanwhile, as I finished off the last of my Roast Awesomeness, Jaelynn had procured a plate of chocolate-covered strawberries — which, yes, she had dipped into the chocolate moat on her own — that would be enough to choke a goat. It must be great to be 9.
And please don’t tell anyone I said this, but thanks to that Awesome Pot Roast, I’m looking forward to her turning 10.